Audrey Flack, Pioneer of Photorealism, Dies at 93

The American artist’s seven-decade career spanned from Abstract Expressionism to “post-post-modern” sculpture.

Jul 2, 2024By Emily Snow, MA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial Studies
Flack with her painting Wheel of Fortune. Source: Audrey Flack Studio.


Audrey Flack—feminist artist, rebellious Abstract Expressionist, and pioneer of the Photorealist movement—died at age 93 on June 28. Shortly after her ninetieth birthday in 2021, Flack remarked, “Titian made art into his late 80s, and I’m now past that. I always wanted to paint like an Old Master, or rather an old mistress—a radical contemporary old mistress.”


Old Master Origins and Abstract Expressionism

Diamonds in the Sky (Abstract) by Audrey Flack, 1951. Source: Audrey Flack Studio.


Audrey Flack was born in New York in 1931. Her parents decorated their Washington Heights home with reproductions of Old Master paintings, which Flack remembered as her “friends.” Flack studied fine arts at New York’s High School of Music & Art, Cooper Union, Yale University, and New York University. Her earliest work was associated with Abstract Expressionism, which dominated the American art world. However, the hypermasculinity of the movement—and the bad behavior of some of its key players—ultimately inspired Flack to look elsewhere for creative camaraderie.


Flack was inspired by the Pop Art movement to embrace a new kind of figurative painting. She began taking photographs of everyday objects—which she processed herself in her studio’s bathroom—and painting directly from them. She was among the first American artists to do so, making her a pioneer of Photorealism, a movement focused on creating photographically detailed depictions of ordinary life using non-photographic artistic media.


Photorealism and Feminism

Wheel of Fortune (Vanitas) by Audrey Flack, 1977-78. Source: Audrey Flack Studio.


Audrey Flack meticulously painted colorful, crowded compositions of mundane objects associated with women, like tubes of lipstick and bottles of perfume. Her famous Vanitas series is a contemporary feminist take on Old Master still life traditions, using saturated garish hues, pop culture references, and mass-produced objects to meditate on the inevitability of death and elevate women’s everyday experiences.

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As one of the only prominent women associated with the early Photorealist movement, Flack’s work diverged from her male contemporaries in that it favored conventionally feminine objects and themes—and, as a result, attracted frequent sexist criticism. She later recalled, “I didn’t care that this art was dismissed as lower-class kitch.” Despite naysayers, Audrey Flack was the first Photorealist painter to be added to the Museum of Modern Art’s collection.


Audrey Flack’s Late-Career Innovations

Flack with her sculpture Self-Portrait as Suicidal St. T­eresa (2012). Source: Audrey Flack Studio.


In the 1980s, Audrey Flack reinvented herself as a sculptor. Her larger-than-life female figures depicted powerful women and goddesses from various cultures, mythologies, and religions. Flack explained her approach to sculpture to the New York Times: “I do go back to the ancients and to Neoclassicism, but my work is very contemporary. It’s post-post-modern.”


In the final years of her career, Flack returned to painting in what she deemed a “Post-Pop-Baroque” style. She remained active in her studio up until her death on June 28. Her most recent work will be the focus of an upcoming exhibition—titled Audrey Flack NOW—at the Parrish Museum of Art in Water Mill, New York.

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By Emily SnowMA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial StudiesEmily Snow is a contributing writer and art historian based in Amsterdam. She earned an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and loves knitting, her calico cat, and everything Victorian.